The Art of Disappearing Fore-edge Paintings

By Jane Werrell

Martin Frost is one of the world’s last remaining fore-edge painters.

“A bit of book magic always makes people smile—without fail,” he said as his miniature painting vanished within the pages of a gold-gilded book.

Frost’s paints are put on the edges of the pages of a book while it is fanned and put in a press, creating the effect. The secret behind the magic is using watercolor paints, without much water or paint, and a lot of concentration.

“You’ve got to have the right mentality to knuckle down and be patient with it,” said Frost, who has been a fore-edge painter for over 40 years.

He’s worked on many English classics, including books by Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter as well as modern titles, like Harry Potter, where Dumbledore disappears into the book’s starry edges.

The demand for fore-edge paintings was originally driven only by the British gentry in the 18th century. But Frost says in more recent times, the United States has been that main market, which peaked during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

“They fitted the ticket as a choice example of something that was quintessentially English,” he said.

He says he hopes to train more people, so this magical vanishing art form doesn’t disappear.